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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Chippewa Songs
- Louise Erdrich
- Ghost Dance Songs
- Thomas Harriot
- Black Elk & John G. Neihardt
- Simon J. Ortiz
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Stories of the Beginning of the World
- Luci Tapahonso
- Roger Williams
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Chippewa Songs

Rocky Boy (Stone Child), a Chippewa Chief
[7428] Anonymous, Rocky Boy (Stone Child), a Chippewa Chief, Three-Quarter Length, Standing, Dressed in Ornate Costume (n.d.), courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch.

Chippewa Songs Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Frances Densmore collected these Chippewa songs between 1907 and 1909. The songs reflect the culture of the Chippewa peoples who once lived along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, across Minnesota, and west to North Dakota. The Chippewa are Algonquian Indians; that is, they speak a language that is related to those others classified as part of the central Algonquian group. Chippewa and Ojibwa are the same word pronounced differently. They are composed of numerous tribes and bands, including the Turtle Mountain Band of which Louise Erdrich is a member. The Chippewa were the largest Great Lakes tribe and one of the most powerful tribes in North America. Because the Chippewa did not possess good farming lands, white settlement in their homelands was minimal, and hence they have been able to maintain much of their language and culture. Chippewa culture varies with geographic location: on the plains, for example, the Chippewa hunted buffalo. Most Ojibwe lived in the northern Great Lakes region and cultivated crops and supplemented their diet with hunting and gathering. They were skilled hunters, trappers, and fishers. The lakes and the spirits of the lake—the underwater manitos—became a central part of their cosmology.

Like other Algonquian peoples, the Chippewa lived in tipis. Theirs were dome-shaped and were made of birch bark that could be rolled up for easy transportation. Clothing was made out of buckskin and furs that were dyed. Today the Chippewa are renowned for their beautiful beadwork, particularly their beaded bandolier bags, named for the bandolier, an ammunition belt worn over the shoulder and across the chest. These decorative bags served many utilitarian purposes. The Ojibwa often passed the time and entertained each other with stories and songs such as the ones in The Norton Anthology of American Literature.

It is important to remember that while some songs are sacred and were both received and sung in a ceremonial context, others were not. As Frances Densmore, who collected a wide variety of songs among the Chippewa, explained in her 1915 article in The Musical Quarterly: "Among the Chippewa it was the custom for medicine men to build 'nests' in the trees, where they waited, fasting, until they secured a dream and its song. A man was very proud of a song received in this manner. . . . A medicine man always sang his principal dream song and related the dream before he began to treat a sick person." For Densmore, love songs were wholly removed from this more sacred and traditional context. She identified three levels of songs: "First, there still remain some of the old songs, sung by the old singers. . . . Second, there are old ceremonial and medicine songs belonging to men now dead, but which can be sung, and sung with reasonable correctness, by men who heard them given by their owners. . . . Third, there are comparatively modern songs, which represent a transitional culture. If differentiated from the really old songs, these are not devoid of interest, though it is scarcely worth while to collect a great many of them." Love songs were in this third "modern" category.

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